A community garden is any piece of land gardened by a group of people. The majority of gardens in community gardening programs are collections of individual garden plots, frequently between 9.8 ft × 9.8 ft (3 m × 3 m) and 20 ft × 20 ft (6 m × 6 m). This holds true whether they are sponsored by public agencies, city departments, large non-profits or most commonly a coalition of different entities and groups. The European history of community gardening in the US dates back to the early 18th century, when Moravians created a community garden as part of the community of Bethabara, near modern Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The garden is still active and open for visitors today. Moravians are an ethnographic group of Czechs of the Moravia region of the Czech Republic. First Nations peoples also gardened with a community approach, likely for generations before the arrival of waves of immigrants. Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden paints a picture of gardens among the Hidatsa. The Hidatsa are a Siouan people.
1914 - 1945
During World War I and World War II, some victory gardens were planted on public land. Victory gardens, also called war gardens or food gardens for defense, were vegetable, fruit and herb gardens planted at private residences and public parks in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Germany during World War I and World War II. They were used along with rationing stamps and cards to reduce pressure on the public food supply. Besides indirectly aiding the war effort, these gardens were also considered a civil morale booster in that gardeners could feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown. This made victory gardens a part of daily life on the home front.
In March 1917, Charles Lathrop Pack organized the US National War Garden Commission and launched the war garden campaign. He was one of the five wealthiest men in America prior to World War I. Food production had fallen dramatically during World War I, especially in Europe, where agricultural labor had been recruited into military service and remaining farms devastated by the conflict. Pack and others conceived the idea that the supply of food could be greatly increased without the use of land and manpower already engaged in agriculture, and without the significant use of transportation facilities needed for the war effort. The campaign promoted the cultivation of available private and public lands, resulting in over five million gardens in the USA. President Woodrow Wilson said that "Food will win the war."
Amid regular rationing of food in Britain, the United States Department of Agriculture encouraged the planting of victory gardens during the course of World War II. Around one third of the vegetables produced by the United States came from victory gardens. It was emphasized to American home front urbanites and suburbanites that the produce from their gardens would help to lower the price of vegetables needed by the US War Department to feed the troops, thus saving money that could be spent elsewhere on the military: "Our food is fighting," one US poster read. By May 1943 there were 18 million victory gardens in the United States - 12 million in cities and 6 million on farms.
Although at first the Department of Agriculture objected to Eleanor Roosevelt's institution of a victory garden on the White House grounds, fearing that such a movement would hurt the food industry. Fruit and vegetables harvested in these home and community plots was estimated to be 9,000,000–10,000,000 short tons (8,200,000–9,100,000 t) in 1944, an amount equal to all commercial production of fresh vegetables.
In New York City, the lawns around vacant Riverside (Charles M. Schwab House) were devoted to victory gardens, as were portions of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. The slogan "grow your own, can your own", was a slogan that started at the time of the war and referred to families growing and canning their own food in victory gardens. In 1946, with the war over, many British residents did not plant victory gardens, in expectation of greater availability of food. However, shortages remained in the United Kingdom and rationing remained in place for at least some food items until 1954.
A citizen working on a Sunday morning in the victory garden he has made on the edge of a street in Oswego, New York State. He shows his wife vegetables from his victory garden as she starts on her way to the church. Date: June, 1943. Photographer: Marjory Collins (1912-1985).
1945 - 2010
Many victory gardens in World War II evolved into community gardens in the United States. Academic study of American community gardening by T.J. Bassett and more recently Laura Lawson suggests that the community gardening movement is best described as a series of distinct phases each with contrasting ideologies and purposes, even though all resulted in people creating gardens on public or abandoned land. The latest phase began with the alternative politics and culture and dawning ecological activism of the late 1960s. From the mid-1970s through the early 1990s, community gardening in a select number of major American cities enjoyed Federal financial support, though many programs struggled to find funding. The loss of the Federal program increased the challenge of finding funding to support programs. Funding remains a key challenge, along with secure land tenure for garden sites, finding insurance, and helping gardeners develop ways to work together smoothly. Since the turn of the 21st century, interest in victory gardens has grown. In March 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama planted an 1,100-square-foot (100 m2) kitchen garden on the White House lawn, the first since Eleanor Roosevelt's, to raise awareness about healthy food.
Community gardening in the United States encompasses a wide variety of approaches. Some influential community gardens, such as the Clinton Community Garden in the middle of Manhattan in New York City and the Peralta garden in Berkeley, California, are gathering places for neighbors and showcases for art and ecological awareness, with food production cherished but seen as one part of a much larger vision. Other gardens resemble European allotment gardens, with plots where individuals and families can grow vegetables and flowers, including a number (for instance, in Minneapolis and Ann Arbor, Michigan) which began as victory gardens during World War II. Even such food gardens can be very different - for instance, plot sizes range widely from as small as 4.9 ft × 4.9 ft (1.5 m × 1.5 m) in some inner city gardens and art gardens such as the Dovetail Garden in Charlotte, North Carolina, to relatively large plots of 49 ft × 49 ft (15 m × 15 m) such as those at Hilton Head, South Carolina. Plots in community gardens are often rented out by the city, starting at plots of just 5 ft × 5 ft (1.52 m × 1.52 m). Due to the green movement many new gardens are being set up.
Some community gardens, in contrast, are devoted entirely to creating ecological green space or habitat, still others to growing flowers, and others to education or providing access to gardening to those who otherwise could not have a garden, such as the elderly, recent immigrants or the homeless. Some gardens are worked as community farms with no individual plots at all, shading into becoming urban farms. The largest community garden in the United States is reported to be Shiloh Field Community Garden in Denton, Texas, measuring at 14.5 acres of land.
Whether the community garden is run as a co-op by the gardeners themselves (common in New York, Boston and other East Coast cities) or managed by a public or non-profit agency, plot holders typically are asked to pay a modest fee each year and to abide by a set of rules. Many gardens encourage activities such as work days, fundraisers and social gatherings. Community garden organizers typically say that growing community is as important as growing vegetables; or, as the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) puts it: "In community gardening, community comes first." The ACGA, a non-profit coalition founded in 1979, is the primary advocacy group for community gardening in the US and Canada.
Community gardening in the United States overlaps to some extent with the related but distinct movement to encourage local food production, local farmers markets and community supported agriculture farms (CSAs). Leases and rules prevent some, though not all, community gardeners from selling their produce commercially, although their gardens may donate fresh fruits and vegetables to local food pantries, cooperatives and homeless members of their community. However, community gardens offer ideal sites for local farmers markets and gardeners often seek farmers to provide space-intensive crops such as corn or potatoes. They also can hire farmers to provide services such as plowing and providing mulch and manure. In turn, small farmers can reach a wider audience and consumer base by drawing on community gardeners and their contacts. Although the two approaches are distinct, both can be effective ways to produce local food in urban areas, safeguard green space, and contribute to food security. Community gardens also increase environmental aesthetics, promote neighborhood attachement and social involvement. Community gardens often face pressure due to economic development, rising land values and decreased city government budgets. In some cases they have responded to the changes by forming nonprofit organizations to provide assistance and by building gardens on city park spaces and school yards.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends eating more dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, legumes and fruits; eating less refined grains, fat and calories; and obtaining 60 minutes of physical activity on most days. Recent public health evaluations show community gardens as a promising approach to promote healthy behaviors. This is particularly important in establishing healthy behaviors among children given the rise of childhood obesity. One recent pilot study in Los Angeles showed a gardening and nutrition intervention improved dietary intake in children and reduced body mass index.